Studio plays down reports of damage

An electrical short circuit is being blamed for a fire at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios backlot that claimed part of the set of HBO’s “Rome” but caused little other damage, leaving the sprawling facility’s soundstages, film archives and other sets intact.

“The studios are safe, sound and in good shape except for a corner of the backlot where the fire broke out,” Cinecitta Studios deputy director Maurizio Sperandini told Daily Variety.

The Cinecitta exec said the fire broke out near the “Rome” set — which HBO vacated in January — between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Thursday but was put out in three hours.

Before then, however, flames spread to the area known as the “suburra,” the ancient Roman red-light district on the “Rome” set that is considered among the largest open-air sets ever constructed. It comprises a partial re-creation of the Roman Forum, with temples, thermal baths, bordellos and public buildings, all made of fiberglass panels and other materials, some of which are highly flammable.

Sperandini said the scale of the fire had “been a bit exaggerated by early press reports.”

The large complex, founded by Benito Mussolini in 1937 — and known as Hollywood on the Tiber in its 1950s heyday when “Ben-Hur” and “Quo Vadis” were shot there — spreads out over 600,000 square meters (717,000 square yards) and comprises 22 soundstages, including the legendary Studio 5, where Federico Fellini worked.

Besides “Rome,” recent Hollywood productions at Cinecitta include Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic” and “Exorcist: The Beginning.”

On the artier front, Abel Ferrara shot his screwball comedy “Go Go Tales” there last year.

Sperandini said the BBC is on site preparing to shoot its revived sci-fier “Doctor Who” at Cinecitta in September.

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